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Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Play is a child’s job. Have you ever noticed how focused a child can become during their play that they ignore instructions and voices of the adults? They are so finely tuned into their play because it is nature’s way of helping the child develop and mature in a manner that is appealing to a child. They don’t want to be taught how to be a doctor at age 5 by a parent sitting them down and explaining the duties and role of the family physician. The child would rather pretend to be a doctor and have a doll or stuffed animal as their patient, as they go about examining their pretend patient.

Play is a way for them to practice real life scenarios in a safe way. It also allows for the creative flow of thoughts and ideas. These are essential to the healthy development of the child. Parents who have a hard time letting go of their kids to allow unstructured play time need to recognize that these activities are actually assisting in their emotional and cognitive development.

Read my previous article about The Endless Battle Between School Works and Play for Children if you haven’t realized how kids’ creativity are being murdered these days.

Play can bring greater benefits than any scheduled activities

Play is their work. It is their time to process life through imaginative actions, and to build them into emotionally stronger people. The benefits of creative play should not be discounted or minimized.

Creative play has a multitude of benefits for children including:

  • Greater sense of self worth
  • Problem solving skills
  • Personal growth and learning
  • Increase in creative thought processes (creativity builds upon creativity)
  • Increase in emotional stability (children use play to work through complex issues)
  • Leadership abilities
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication skills (as they play with other children and express themselves)

Don’t rob your kids of the benefits of creative play by having them busy all the time in scheduled activities. Allow time for them to play and be a child.

A subtle action can murder an innocent creative play

There are things that a parent or caregiver can inadvertently do that will kill a child’s abilities to flourish creatively in that moment. Below are just some of the things that can harm or inhibit creative play.

Hovering

When adults hoover over their children during play time, the children are aware of their presence. It inhibits their ability to play, as many children will limit their actions based on what they believe the adult will like or dislike in their actions. The child becomes attuned to accommodating the hovering by playing according to positive reactions from their caregiver.

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This can also be conversely true as well. Meaning that the child may play in a way that seeks out negative attention from the hovering caregiver. Either way, the hovering is not beneficial in the long run, as it is stifling the child’s ability to be creative without the direct scrutiny of an adult.

Pressure to perform

Children need to be able to play without feeling that they are performing. They don’t need to create something meaningful like a rehearsed puppet show or a quality piece of artwork to be creative.

Often, creativity is built over time. They need time, space, and freedom from pressure to be creative. Sometimes, nothing is created and that is fine too. The purpose is to allow them to be creative on their own and in their own element, so pressure must not be placed on them. Pressure does not help creativity flow for children. Instead it creates stress and negative emotions that inhibit creativity.

Control

Allow the child to do their own thing. If you are constantly saying “why don’t you do things this way” or “how about you do this…”, then you are trying to control the creative play.

Most children will eventually decide what and how they want to go about doing something. They don’t need interference. Even if it is the wrong way. As long as it is not harmful to them, then it is a creative experience that should teach them to do things differently next time. They will learn on their own using their own abilities than the controlling prodding from an adult.

Competition

There is plenty of competition for kids in this world and for the life ahead of them. Parents and adults do not need to make play time competitive, because for many kids this puts them off. They just want to participate with other children and enjoy the fun. They don’t want to be the loser in a competition.

If kids create their own competition in play, then that’s fine. It is not helpful for adults to intervene and force competitive situations in the play. It becomes real work when competition is put into the mix. It can suppress a child’s ability to be creative, as they are more focused on the competition at hand that allowing their natural creativity to abound.

Let the kids lead the play

Parents should allow for the child to lead the play, as this is allowing them to be the source of the creativity. Parents and adults can supply the materials needed and then let the child or children play using their own thoughts on how to proceed with the playtime. If parents get too involved or provide too much direction they inhibit the child’s creativity and self expression. Allowing the child space and time to play without specific instructions is exactly what children need to flourish in their creative element (provided that they are safe first and foremost).

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Below are some ways that you can encourage your child in free play. Allowing your child to do these things will stimulate their creative thought processes. It will also help their development emotionally and mentally.

1. Art

Provide your child with crayons, paints, paper, markers, empty boxes, and more and you will see them express their creativity. You don’t need to tell them what to draw or how to create art. They have their own ideas. If you want to be involved in the art then encourage their play by providing them with positive verbal cues as they play.

For example, as your daughter paints a piece of artwork and suddenly takes a bright red paint and splatters it all over their artwork, don’t tell her she is ruining her artwork. Instead comment on their creative choices. Praise their ability to know what they want and that they go and do it with confidence.

It is also ok to simply provide them with the supplies to create art and allow them the opportunity to create on their own. If you are concerned about mess, then cover the table and floor below the child with newspaper, paper towels, or other disposable materials and have them put on one of your old t-shirts. Be less concerned with the mess and more concerned with the child being able to freely create the art.

2. Outdoor exploration

Get outside and explore with your child. Something as simple as a bug box or binoculars can bring lots of creative ideas to the child. Allow the child to take the lead on what they want to discover that moment in nature or how they want to play. The great outdoors is a wonderful natural setting for play and imaginative activities to happen.

    3. Pretending adulthood

    One way that children play that helps them imagine how it will be to a grown up is through pretend play. When your children play adult scenarios such as, school (one child is the teacher and the others are students in a make believe classroom), doctor (they are doctors and perform surgeries and examinations on dolls or stuffed animals), or house (the kids pretend to be a family and they create home life situations to play out), they are imagining what it would be like to do these things in real life. They are playing through their reality of what can or may happen as adults in these scenarios. It is a way for them to safely express themselves and practice what it will be like to someday be an adult.

    4. Building

    Blocks, Legos, gear building sets, and other toys that allow children to build something are great for initiating creative and imaginative play. They must built to create something, therefore using their own skills of creativity and ingenuity. They are the architect, the construction crew, and the designer all in one. They plan, execute, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor when the project is complete.

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    There is great joy and self-worth attained when children build things. It isn’t just imaginative play, it is learning to start a project and complete it for the sake of their own satisfaction. Their self-motivation can be honed in on during building play time.

    Once again, parents can provide the materials and then let the child determine the course of the building, along with the execution. It is ok to help along the way if they ask for help, but allow them to direct you on what you should be doing in their project. That way they have the sense of being in control of their project and they are taking a leadership role in accomplishing the task at hand. It is empowering for the child and helps them to become stronger emotionally and mentally.

    5. Toys that facilitate creativity

    Play Doh, tinker toys, and the like facilitate creative play in children because they are creating somethings using these toys. These toys can be much like art and building combined. They allow the child to create freely from scratch. They can determine what to make and how to go about completion of what they want to make. They are utilizing great creative and innovative skills when allowed the space and freedom to plan and complete a project on their own.

    For example, a child can decide that they want to make a miniature town out of Play Doh. They get to decide how to create the buildings, where to place them, how big to make them, etc. They then get to execute and this involves trial and error. They learn to problem solve things such as the trees not standing up on their own, so they must create conifer trees only to support the weight of the Play Doh. They will revel in their success of completing their little town and feel proud of their accomplishment.

    It is more than just play, it is building life skills and developing problem solving skills that carry into adulthood.

      6. Physical activity

      Kids need physical activity. This is why they rarely sit still. They need to be moving physically all throughout the day, as this is the way children are made. They are physical creatures with an abundance of energy that is meant to be used for their benefit in the maturation process. When they play physically, especially with other children, they are often engaging in creative play.

      For example, they may chase one another and create imaginative games about good guys needing to capture the bad guys. They will create playtime activities on their own that involve physical play when they are allowed that freedom and enough physical space to move around.

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      Outdoors is the best place to allow them to be physically creative. It is also a great time for leadership skills to be developed. The child who is simply bossy will not attract other kids at play time. However, the child who has good leadership skills can attract other kids to play in their activity and can lead the way in the play.

      Creative physical play time is also beneficial to their physical well being since they are getting exercise while they are playing.

      Allow kids to be kids

      The Pediatrics Journal cites a variety of reasons that contribute to the reduction of play in society today,[1]

      …variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.

      Parents need to be cognizant of their family lifestyle and schedule to ensure that their children are allowed to have time to be children. This means allowing them time to play freely which provides the opportunity for their creativity to blossom.

      Keeping children too busy and too structured is proving detrimental to their development in the long run. Their creativity, which is an important skill unlocks the gate for many valuable skills and traits children will need in adulthood, will be hindered.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Last Updated on January 12, 2021

      Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

      Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

      Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

      In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

      Signs of depression in children

      The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

      Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

      • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
      • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
      • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
      • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
      • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
      • Fatigue and loss of energy.
      • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
      • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
      • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

      Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

      However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

      How to help your child with depression

      Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

      Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

      Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

      Testing

      There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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      • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
      • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
      • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

      Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

      Therapy

      There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

      Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

      What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

      Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

      1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

      It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

      Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

      It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

      2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

      For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

      Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

      3. Limit screen time.

      Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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      Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

      Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

      You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

      4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

      Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

      5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

      Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

      Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

      6. Help your child reduce life stress.

      When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

      7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

      Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

      Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

      8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

      Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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      Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

      9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

      Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

      10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

      Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

      Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

      11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

      This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

      12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

      Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

      13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

      Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

      Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

      14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

      Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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        Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

        15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

        Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

        16. Talk about bullying.

        It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

        17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

        Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

        18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

        Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

        Depression in children is curable

        Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

        Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

        Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

        The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
        [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
        [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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